By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
Despite losing double-digit leads in the first and second half, the 324th Intelligence Squadron (324 IS) Tigers hung on to beat the 15th Medical Group (15 MDG), 44-39, on March 25 in a Red Division regular-season finale at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Fitness Center.
The win placed the Tigers in a three-way tie for first place in the Red Division, while the Medical Group ended their year with a record of 3-5.
“It was an up and down game,” Tigers head coach Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 3rd Class Ryan Shirley admitted. “I wanted to see how certain players would react when put in different positions, because the playoffs are coming up.”
While the strategy seemed to make sense, it almost sent the Tigers to their second loss of the season and out of contention for the division’s number-one seed in the playoffs.
Working with his starting five at tipoff, Shirley saw the Tigers race out to an 11-0 lead, before a free throw by Airman 1st Class Christopher McCloud put the first point on the board for the 15 MDG.
The 15 MDG didn’t score their first basket until 10 minutes had passed, but the hoop by military family member James Avery seemed to energize their attack.
With Shirley shuffling players in and out, the 15 MDG started a comeback and after trailing for most of the first half, the team pulled to within two points on a trey by Avery with 4:02 remaining before halftime.
A basket by McCloud tied the score at 15-15 and led to a 20-18 lead for the 15 MDG at intermission.
“It shouldn’t happen with a team that’s already played one game before,” said Tigers point guard Tech. Sgt. Tim Harris about losing momentum. “They (15 MDG) were tired and we should have run them out of there. The starters were in and scored a bunch, the starters went out and we lost the lead.”
Back with their starting five on the court to open the second half, the Tigers immediately seized control of the game by scoring seven unanswered points to take a 25-20 lead with 14:02 remaining in the game.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Senior Airman A.J. Abdul gave the Tigers another 11-point lead, but for the second time in the game, couldn’t hold on to the double-digit advantage.
A trey by Senior Airman Debronis Warren cut the deficit down to five at 33-28, before a basket by McCloud and another three-point shot by Avery made it a one-point game at 33-32.
Tigers center Airman 1st Class Omar Vidro and McCloud traded baskets to make it 35-34, but 324 forward Tech. Sgt. Terrance Gist came up with a huge play by stealing an inbound pass and then going up for the score to give the Tigers a three-point lead with only 2:30 on the clock.
Gist immediately put the game in the bag by scoring the next basket on a fast-break layup to make it 39-34.
Despite having to scramble to get the victory, Shirley said that he feels good about the Tigers’ prospect in the postseason.
As long as every one remains focused on the big prize, he believes that the team has the potential to win it all.
“We can win it,” he pointed out. “We just have to go and play like it. We have to go out there and believe in all the talk. We have to go out and do it.”
Harris agrees with his coach and is also feeling confident as the team gears itself up for the upcoming battles.
“We got a lot of good players and a pretty deep bench,” Harris said. “We’ll be ready. Our game plan is sound.”